With the increasing demand for housing, Ghanaians may soon go hungry if the sale of farmlands to real estate developers goes unregulated, a Senior Policy Advisor of the USAID Agricultural Policy Support Project has warned.
According to Mr Kwaku Owusu-Baah, the country faced danger as far as food production was concerned. This is as a result of the rate at which farmlands were shrinking as they were being sold to real estate companies and individuals desirous of owning homes.
“A few years ago, peri-urban farming provided enough vegetables to feed Accra, but today we import vegetables from Burkina Faso. It is a challenge we need to look at and deal with before it gets out of hand,” he said.
Mr Owusu-Baah, who was speaking at a media training on agriculture reporting in Dodowa, therefore, called on Parliament to take immediate steps to deal with the situation.
The two-day training programme brought together participants from more than 20 media houses and agriculture-focused civil society organisations.
The programme walked participants through United States Feed the Future initiative, agriculture policy-making process, Ghana’s agriculture policy including Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy II (FASDEP II) and its implementation plan—Medium Term Agriculture Sector Investment Plan (METASIP) and budget tracking.
The programme was meant to build the capacity of the selected journalists in agriculture reporting which had largely been absent in the Ghanaian media because of inadequate technical knowledge on the subject, and lack of specialisation by Ghanaian journalists who report on the sector.
Signs of the country’s dependency on its neighbours for food imports were on the wall during last year’s Burkina Faso political crisis when some analysts warned of a potential food security crisis in Ghana, should the conflict escalate.
As of 2009, Ghana’s tomatoes imports from Burkina Faso stood at 180,000 tonnes. The country’s import bill from onions from Burkina Faso and Niger also stood at $5 million.
Housing vs farms
Ghana’s 1.7 million housing deficit means that increasing demand for housing is competing with farmlands particularly in peri-urban areas such as Dodowa, Pokuase, Amasaman, Ningo-Prampram and Afienya where farmlands are shrinking.
Although data on how much farmlands the country is losing is hard to come by, the country’s estimated 14 million-hectare agriculture land, out of which six million is lying fallow, continues to be under threat due to the urban drift that has increased demand for homes.
Currently, there is little or no respect for areas originally planned as green zones in the country in the face of lack of law enforcement.
Ghana’s agriculture is mainly rain-fed. In spite of the vast swathe, little attention has been paid to irrigation. Currently, less than 12,000 hectares of the farmlands are under irrigation.
That, Mr Owusu-Baah said, was worrying since over the years agriculture had been acclaimed as the backbone of the economy.
He observed that the solution to the numerous challenges facing the country’s agriculture sector were outside the ministry’s jurisdiction.
“Sometimes, when feeder roads are constructed, they do not fall within the priority areas of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. So food is left to rot in areas where the roads are needed,” he added.
Reducing interest rates
One of the crippling challenges facing local farmers is access to credit as banks consider loans to farmers a risk. When such loans are available, the interest rate is also not attractive
But the Senior Food Security Adviser of USAID Ghana, Dr Fenton Sands, said as part of the project, USAID was providing incentives to motivate banks to lend to farmers at reasonable rates.
Currently, Ghana spends an estimated $600 million on annual rice imports, a figure that Dr Sands said could be reduced with the right investment in the sector, as being executed by the Feed the Future (FTF) project.
Feed the Future strives to bring critical agricultural technologies and best practices to smallholder farmers around the world to ultimately support food security.
In Ghana, as part of its contribution to ensuring food security, as part of the FTP Project, the five-year programme, which concentrates on the Northern Region, is expected to increase yields in maize, rice and soya beans.
It is also expected to increase the net household income of smallholder farmers by $690 million by 2017 when it ends.
The Chief of Party of the project, Mr Walter Nunez-Rodriguez, urged the media to take a leading role in ensuring that challenges concerning the agriculture sector were addressed.